Marine safety expert on three challenges facing industry

Why fatigue, addiction, and safety management need to be addressed

Marine safety expert on three challenges facing industry

Ken Potter has devoted his life to marine safety. He’s a board member with the Transportation Safety Board, and before becoming a board member, he spent more than 15 years with the TSB as an investigator.

That’s just one item on a long LinkedIn list of experiences and credentials in marine safety that dates back to his graduation from the Georgian College Marine Engineering Technology program in 1982.

He was first inspired by the “maritime world overall” from watching National Geographic Jacques Cousteau specials on TV.  In his early adulthood, Potter spent six weeks on board an oceanographic research ship, “and it just changed my life path from marine biology to marine engineering at that point, and of course, on to safety after that.”

More than 40 years later, Potter says there are three main concerns facing the maritime transportation industry today: fatigue, safety management systems on board vessels, and substance abuse.

Fighting fatigue

“Mariners are working long hours, there's a very strong work ethic to get the job done,” says Potter, “and they're increasingly becoming fatigued.” Potter says the issue is a common contributing factor in accidents on board vessels and at sea. The TSB issues a watch list every year highlighting key safety issues in Canada’s transportation system and an entire section is devoted to fatigue.

The TSB highlights the need for fatigue awareness training and fatigue management plans on board vessels, and specifically points to the fishing industry in its watchlist saying, “fish harvesters accept fatigue as a normal part of doing business and generally do not recognize the signs of fatigue or understand its effects.”

The TSB operates independently from Transport Canada, and makes strong recommendations to the regulator regarding regulations, policies, and procedures.

The TSB issued two recommendations to Transport Canada in 2018 regarding awareness training and management plans for vessel owners. Transport Canada has since launched awareness campaigns and training sessions. It is also working to create new fatigue management requirements on “vessels of particular size.” But it does not plan to address fatigue management for small commercial vessels and fish harvesting operations.

Both British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have taken steps to address fatigue management and provide guidance to employers in the provinces. The TSB says Transport Canada needs to review the hours of work and rest provisions in the Marine Personnel Regulations.

Safety management and inspections

“Safety management essentially is just assessing risk and setting in place procedures to avoid that risk or to handle it if something happens,” says Potter. He points out that while international vessels are required to have safety management systems on-board, Canadian domestic vessels are not, but that is changing.

“TC has proposed new safety management vessel regulations,” explains Potter, but there is also an issue when it comes to enforcing the rules. Potter notes Transport Canada delegates its inspection role to recognized organizations and is not inspecting large vessels itself. “We've notice there are issues with how those recognized organizations are carrying out their responsibilities and roles to inspect those vessels,” says Potter.

He uses one example of a report into a ferry in Quebec called the Apollo. Following an accident, TSB investigators “walked on board and found numerous deficiencies on the vessel that had just been inspected by the recognized organization.”

For smaller vessels, Transport Canada relies on designating an authorized representative to be responsible for safety of the vessel, which is typically the owner of the ship. “They don't know what their responsibilities are,” says Potter, who suggests “there is a disconnect” and says many authorized representatives don’t have the knowledge to be responsible for safety.

Substance abuse on-board

Potter says another concerning marine safety challenge is substance abuse, which is becoming increasingly more prevalent. “It's an emerging issue,” says Potter, “and that's being reported to us by industry.”

He says the dangerous trend is specifically being identified in the fishing industry, but it’s not just that sector of the economy, and it’s not just a marine safety issue. “I won't go any further than to say it's a multimodal issue with us that we’re just watching right now, keeping an eye on it, and monitoring as occurrences happen.”

Drug use on the job is an issue affecting many industries, so much so that Ontario recently introduced a naloxone program for high-risk sectors of the economy.

In fact, fatigue, safety management systems, and drug use are all issues appearing in one form or another across vast swaths of the Canadian economy. Health and safety professionals would be wise to get ahead of these hazards and start thinking about the control methods.